Positive bro vibe is negative on 'Getting Good at Starting Over'ALBUM REVIEW: Singer Preston Gunderson's music is a shining example of the positive-bro archetype in modern pop and rock — the obnoxiously upbeat, clean-cut, happy-to-be-here, I’m-not-trying-to-score-but-don’t-mind-if-I-do kind of dude who is running rampant all over current pop culture.
By: Tony Bennett, for the News Tribune
There’s a moment about midway through the title track of Preston Gunderson’s “Getting Good at Starting Over” where the former Duluthian makes you think, “Hey, maybe this guy’s not all namby-pamby and stuff. Maybe he’s not my thing, but he knows how to write a song and sing it and play it and produce it.” And then, you suddenly realize that you’ve been listening to a long string of sappy clichés all crammed together in an endless second verse of pap.
Look, this is not gonna be a positive review. Let’s just state that right up top. Not to be blunt about it, but this is not the kind of music your humble reviewer enjoys. There’s no way around this. This sort of John Mayer/Jack Johnson/Jason Mraz soft-rock radio stuff just seems like a Hallmark card stuffed with glitter — way too safe, way too boring, but also way too over-the-top with annoying effort.
This music is a shining example of the positive-bro archetype in modern pop and rock — the obnoxiously upbeat, clean-cut, happy-to-be-here, I’m-not-trying-to-score-but-don’t-mind-if-I-do kind of dude who is running rampant all over current pop culture, singing his little heart out on “American Idol” or “I Wanna Be Famous” or “Please Pay Attention to Me While I Sing this Cover Song,” or whatever show currently is popular with people who aren’t really music fans.
Right here, this review is the kind of review that a positive bro will often spin by posting a link on his website with the comment “Someone woke up on the wrong side of the bed! Lol! It’s okay. I’m gonna keep keepin’ on and make the music I make for all you beautiful people. Have a wonderful day. Peace!”
And, really, that’s fine. But it needs to be said that there are people out there making music who are invested in coming off grateful and warm and inviting, more so than they are in being real, or raw, or honest. They’re more interested in smooth keyboard tones and clothing choices than they are in being truthful. This is the difference between Kenny G and Ornette Coleman. If you get it, you get it. If you don’t, you don’t.
The first track on this album, it’s a midtempo ballad. This is an interesting choice, actually, because usually positive bros want to establish a fun “party” vibe right off the bat. But this has an inherent “picking up the pieces” tone, and that’s something. The lines about watching your heart set sail and believing and knowing then what you know now and whatnot are typical stuff for this genre, but there’s nothing too cringeworthy. The production is real creamy, full of acoustic guitars and pianos and violins. Gunderson’s whispery voice sounds like the audio version of bedroom eyes. All that stuff.
And then, you suddenly realize the lyrics have shifted from the break-up narrative of the first verse to something that sounds like Gunderson’s trying to start up a cult. Here’s the second verse in its entirety:
“It seems like almost yesterday that we rebuilt this town / when everything seemed a mess / we never backed down / we all joined hand and hand / to create a plan / just stand together, you’ll create something special for years and years and years.”
What? What is he talking about? It could be that he’s talking about cleaning up New Orleans after Katrina, but who knows? And these phrases: “almost yesterday,” “hand and hand,” “years and years and years.” This is unacceptable stuff. Think about it: “almost yesterday” is today. If it wasn’t, it would be yesterday. “Only yesterday” is probably what he was going for, but it’s not what he got. What he got was a generic mush of nonspecific clichés and padding that signifies nothing on a bed that sounds like bumper music for a teenager show on ABC Family.
We’ve only talked about the first song. But it gets worse from there. Really. “Stuck on You” is horrible funk (hey, there’s that fun “party” vibe!) with Gunderson taking on a “sexy” voice that makes him sound like he’s a creep making prank phone calls, and “Rediscover” features some rapper doing mic checks for no reason before Gunderson sings “Welcome to Life 101,” a line that possibly could be the worst opening line this reviewer has ever heard.
Let’s not go any further. Really, there’s no point. Preston Gunderson seems like a good dude. He wants to project sincerity and gratitude and caring. He’s not degrading women or anything. It actually hurts to put him down, but that’s what a positive bro does to you: He makes you feel bad for saying anything negative about him because he’s so relentlessly upbeat. But, hey, it’s a dirty job. Someone’s gotta believe in themselves and never back down and do it.
Tony Bennett reviews music for the News Tribune. He can be reached at email@example.com.